There are “blue skies ahead” for the Orioles as far as GM Mike Elias is concerned.
After some tough, 100-loss seasons during a massive rebuilding project, the heavy lifting is finally over and the team is about to see the fruits of its labor.
The Orioles have been more exciting to watch this season, and the addition of No. 1 prospect Adley Rutschman has brought new energy to the franchise.
“I think everyone in the company, ownership on down, is very pleased with the foundation, the processes that have been laid, the infrastructure that we have across our organization right now and it’s just about building and growing from here,” Elias said. “We’ve got blue skies ahead of us. We’ve got a No. 1 farm system. We’ve got a young, talented major league team. We have payroll flexibility where we are past the pandemic and there are going to be more and more people coming into the ballpark.
“We’re going to be renovating this place. There is a lot to look forward to. I’m very excited and feel like the most difficult, arduous part of the work that we’ve had to do is kind of behind us.”
Even after the Rutschman promotion, the Orioles still have a huge amount of talent with their minor league affiliates, led by right-handed starter Grayson Rodriguez. Fans are already clamoring for Rodriguez to make his MLB debut, but he is facing Triple-A batters for the first time.
Rodriguez is 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA in nine starts (43.1 innings) for Norfolk this season. He has 66 strikeouts and a 0.99 WHIP. Regardless of those impressive numbers, Elias is not going to rush Rodriguez to Baltimore. Elias is being careful with his workload and wants Rodriguez to have staying power once he earns the promotion to the MLB club.
“I think that there are a number of factors that we’re monitoring with Grayson. First of all, it was a condensed major league camp because of the lockout,” Elias said. “He wasn’t locked out, but it wasn’t a camp where we could let him have maybe the normal number of innings they could have because we were trying to put a team together so quickly.
“He was a little off-kilter when he came into camp. His outings weren’t great. We sent him back to the minor league side. We were working on things with his delivery that we felt were a little different from his banner 2021 season. We wanted to get him back on track, but equally, in fact if not more important, is when he comes up here we want him to be able to go and pitch and help the team and not handcuff the team.”
Lefty D.L. Hall, another highly prized pitcher, is experiencing some growing pains at Norfolk. Hall, who was selected with the 21st overall pick of the 2017 MLB Draft, is 0-1 with a 4.67 ERA in five starts for the Tides. He has struck out 26 batters and has a 1.27 WHIP.
Elias is confident Hall is progressing well.
“He’s still learning how to pitch. He’s now in the Triple-A level, where you’re facing veteran ex-major leaguers and guys in their 30s, guys that know how to take pitches and lay off stuff, and this is going to be very beneficial for him,” Elias said. “I just think we want to see him cover his innings, meaning not fire so many bullets that we’re having to take him out in the third inning, and get to the point where he’s built out.
“He looks excellent. I think that a mixture of good and bad at Norfolk is exactly what I would have expected, and I think he’s ahead of schedule and expectations in terms of where he came into the year, and this is all good stuff, healthy stuff that we’re seeing from him.”
Another key prospect, outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, appears finally ready to get his career underway. Kjerstad dealt with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) that knocked him out for the 2021 season, and more recently has dealt with a hamstring issue.
Kjerstad will participate in extended spring training games through the end of the month and then transition to the Florida Complex League if there are no setbacks.
“Our goal is to get him to Delmarva this summer. I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” Elias said. “He’s doing well with the hamstring and the other stuff that he’s been through.”
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